This was an odd sort of book. A late-thirties man is found stumbling in the desert in the Las Vegas area. He does have ID on him, but is incoherent. He is taken to a hospital, hydrated and treated for heat stroke, etc, and further studies reveal a brain tumor, a pilocytic astrocytoma. His wife is contacted, flies out from NYC, and oks the operation that will save his life, but possibly leave him with some brain damage, due to the location of the tumor.
When he recovers after the operation, he has no memory of anything at all after age twelve. He does not know his wife, remembers nothing of his adult life, where he was a lit professor. He returns home with his wife, and tries to put together a life for himself.
It is predominantly a psychological novel, an examination of the concepts of forgetting and remembering, and what that does to relationships, old and new. He retains the ability to form new memories, but never recovers any of the older ones. As he and his wife try to put together a new version of their relationship, they find it impossible, because when one half of a couple remembers everything, remembers the former whole person, and the other half remembers nothing of the other person, and only knows them in the ‘now’, the relationship is doomed to always remain unbalanced and unequal. He and the wife eventually separate, each to try to remake their individual life apart from the other.
He returns to his college office where a young female student sees him, and tries to help him remember things from his classes, but it is no use. They become friends, without benefits, and she seems to be the only one with whom he is comfortable, maybe because she is so young and naive, and is not much concerned that he remember anything.
Of course, he has a bunch of doctors, none of which are much help, but one he visits regularly. That one puts a scientist friend working in the desert in Nevada in touch him about a project for which our amnesiac guy would be perfect. Having nothing better to do, he travels to Las Vegas, meets the neuroscientist, and agrees to go to the almost hidden research facility, where he eventually learns that the project the crew are working on is an attempt to record a memory of one person, and embed that memory into another person. Our guy is perfect for this because he has no other adult memories to interfere with the new one.
Through a method that I don’t understand, mainly because I was not paying attention, the scientists manage to get a memory from another guy of seeing a bomb test during the sixties in the Nevada desert. This memory just devastates our amnesiac, he stomps off away from the facility, takes a bus trip to the west coast, meets other people, yada yada yada.
My telling of the bare bones of this book makes it sound like there was more going on than there actually was. I am not so fond of books that ruminate on any of the various human conditions and which use all this musing in place of a plot trajectory. I kind of prefer a story arc, a narrative that goes from point A to point B with some interesting stuff happening in between.
So my 30-second plot description of this book is: man has a brain tumor removed, loses all his adult memories, dithers around trying to construct a new him, screws up a fair amount, wants to still be in love with wife, but isn’t because he doesn’t know her, wife wants to still be in love with him, but it isn’t him anymore, so she isn’t. Man, after fumphering around a while ends up with a job in a library on the West Coast.
The book was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. Those kinds of book awards tend to like books that muse.